Marcos Breton

PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / Bee file, 2007

Home run king Barry Bonds acknowledges the fans at AT&T Park as he walks off the field following his last game for the Giants.

Marcos Breton: Bonds gets my vote for Hall of Fame

Published: Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 - 8:32 am

If Barry Bonds is not fit for the Hall of Fame, then no player of the last quarter century is.

Performance-enhancing drugs or no, Bonds was the elite player of his generation, the best player I've ever seen and statistically one of the greatest players of all time.

That's why I used my first ballot as a Hall of Fame voter for Bonds and Roger Clemens, statistically one of the most dominant pitchers ever.

Rounding out my ballot were Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, sluggers who stand out by traditional metrics and modern sabermetrics.

All are praying for a call Wednesday, when the Hall of Fame class of 2013 is announced.

But one thing is certain: This is the most controversial group ever considered for induction because Bonds, Clemens, Mark Mc-Gwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and others are inexorably linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

I once thought all the implicated or suspected "cheaters" should be kept out of the Hall of Fame, but not anymore. Altering your body chemistry is wrong and shouldn't be dismissed. PED testing should be more stringent, and already tough penalties should get tougher.

But we simply don't know how many players used PEDs from the 1980s until 2005, when baseball finally began punishing for PED use.

There are no metrics to determine the extent to which PEDs affected competition. That's the main problem – the first Hall of Fame class of the Steroid Era is filled with stars linked to PEDs before baseball cracked down. You can't close that barn door now, so some think you should close the door to the Hall of Fame.

I disagree for several reasons.

First and foremost, I'm not qualified to be an arbiter of morality, and personal feelings about these men should have no bearing on their candidacy. No Northern California sports columnist was tougher on Bonds than me, but he got my vote.

I wrote Sosa's autobiography, but he didn't get my vote.

Moreover, I don't believe players of yore had more integrity than players of today. Amphetamines now banned by baseball were prevalent in the age of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt and other respected Hall of Famers. Schmidt, the Philadelphia Phillies slugger of the 1970s and '80s, has said he might have used steroids were they available in his day.

PEDs aren't the worst thing to happen to a sport stained by segregation, a reserve clause in which players were virtual property – and the fact that gay players are still afraid to come out the clubhouse, America's darkest closet.

Baseball has always transcended the flawed humans driving it and is more popular than ever in terms of attendance.

Consequently, I'm not comfortable denying anyone based on suspicion of PED use without proof. That seems to have been Bagwell's fate up to now and could trip up Piazza as well.

So am I rewarding cheaters with my vote? No. History and higher authorities than me will judge the sinners of the Steroid Era.

I would argue that voting to deny players of the Steroid Era is a vote for sticking your head in the sand – and not the other way around.

The Steroid Era happened. It's time to face up to it, time to stop putting players on false moral pedestals and acknowledge that neither life nor baseball is black and white.

Advanced sabermetrics pioneered by Bill James and others give a broader perspective of the Steroid Era within the context of more than a century of baseball.

Using the formulas of Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs and smart minds such as sabermetrician Jay Jaffe, a case can be made that Palmeiro, McGwire and Sosa fall short of the Hall of Fame standard, though they attained the traditional benchmarks of more than 500 home runs. That's why I left those three off my ballot.

By any baseball measurements, Bonds, Clemens, Bagwell and Piazza stand out among the greats at their positions.

Not to mix sports metaphors, but they are slam dunks, and that's why I chose only them this year.

But there is another reason behind my vote.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame isn't just about the players. It's a museum that chronicles the history of the game, and we simply can't pretend that the last 25 years didn't happen.

They did happen, for better and worse.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton, news columnist

Marcos Breton

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I'm supposed to connect the dots on issues, people and relationships that cause things to happen or prevent them from happening in our region. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, I have voted for Barry Bonds - twice. I am a native of Northern California. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Phone: 916-321-1096
Twitter: @MarcosBreton

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